James Withers: collaboration is the most important ingredient

The food and drink industry is one of Scotland's biggest success stories. In the last ten years, food exports have more than doubled, sales of Scottish brands in the UK have risen nearly 40 per cent and there are now 120,000 people employed in the sector.
James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.
James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.

Our £14 billion industry is in a great place, with Scotland’s reputation as a Land of Food and Drink growing at home and globally.

So how has it happened and where do we go from here?

In 2007, growth in the industry was flat and food and drink had a low profile.

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So, the key players in the industry formed Scotland Food & Drink – a unique partnership of the major trade bodies that represent red meat, whisky, dairy, seafood, bakery, fruit and vegetables, agriculture and fishing, alongside the Scottish Government and its agencies who came to the table alongside industry.

Food and drink business of all shapes and sizes are now part of the Scotland Food & Drink movement too.

This model of collaborative working was a big experiment ten years ago, but has been a roaring success and has created the platform for the future.

In March, we launched Ambition 2030, our new roadmap to 2030. It is hugely ambitious and makes no apology for that.

We believe we can double the size of the farming, fishing, food and drink sector to £30bn and make Scotland the best place in the world to run a food and drink business.

To do that we must grow our markets in Scotland, across the rest of the UK and overseas, developing our skills, our supply chains and embracing world class innovation. All of this is founded on the principle of responsible growth.

We want to make our sector the star player in Scotland’s economy.

But that shouldn’t be measured in pounds and pence alone, but in the wider contribution we’ll make to protecting our countryside and seas, supporting communities and in improving the health and wellbeing of the people who live and work in Scotland.

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Collaboration has been the most important ingredient for our success to date. It will remain so in future. Not least because there are many challenges we still face.

We need to secure greater profitability for farmers at the start of the supply chain, who provide the raw material for so much of our industry.

And we need to make our sector more attractive in the minds of school, college and university leavers.

I believe that joint working between the industry, government and businesses themselves in the coming years can make huge progress in these areas, as well as drive sales and jobs growth.

Critical too, is making support easier for businesses to access. Rising to that challenge, the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership launched Make Innovation Happen.

This first-of-its-kind service provides streamlined information and support to help food and drink businesses to innovate, creating a single gateway for support.

I am delighted that The Scotsman is highlighting this service through this week’s conference.

The levels of research investment by Scottish food and drink businesses has risen 71 per cent in the last decade.

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But we need to accelerate this if we are to adapt to a consumer and market landscape changing at ferocious speed.

There is a lot of hard work ahead, with political upheavals like Brexit to navigate.

Yet, with a government and Parliament backing this sector and an industry willing work as one, we have all the ingredients for success and we can cement farming, fishing, food and drink’s place as Scotland’s most valuable industry.

James Withers is chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink.